3D Programming, TV, future, YahLive
Manufacturers, broadcasters, producers and an ever-increasing band of filmmakers are in agreement that 3D represents an important part of the future of the film and TV industry. But when it comes to working out how to get more 3D content into viewers’ homes and into cinemas, opinions are varied. While broadcasters tend to say there is a lack of content, those responsible for making 3D film and TV say there are not enough outlets for 3D films and programmes.
Mohammed Youssif, CEO of YahSat’s soon-to-launch TV subsidiary YahLive is unequivocal.
“3D programming is the future of TV,” he says.
For broadcasters, it presents an opportunity for differentiation and the sale of premium subscription packages, while satellite operators are keen because, as Youssif explains, one 3D channel requires at least six times the satellite capacity required for the same standard definition channel.
The main barrier, however, is the lack of content, Youssif admits.
“Other than the World Cup and the movie that came with my 3D TV as a demo, I could not purchase any movies from the market, so until we see some 3D-only channels and more content, people will be reluctant to invest in 3D TVs.”
Looking at the conundrum from a different perspective are filmmakers based in the Middle East.
“You can shoot it, but where do you show it?” asks Dubai-based film and TV producer Nicolas Forzy.
“15% of the screens in the UAE are 3D equipped – that equates to about 30. That percentage is roughly the same in the US and Europe, and it remains to be seen if that percentage will go up.”
The proportion of 3D TVs in the home is even less with Sony and Panasonic estimating that 3D TV sales account for 10% of total TV sales.
But with electronics manufacturers channelling marketing effort and basing recent releases of TVs around 3D, the base is likely to increase. And despite the most recent wave of 3D releases struggling to attract crowds of a similar size to releases such as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, the ability to charge more for entry to a 3D film means it remains an attractive option for cinemas.
In the meantime, as the 3D sector enters a period of maturity and the number of screens and outlets increases, corporate films represent an opportunity for producers of 3D content. This is an area where the UAE is one step ahead of other countries in the region. Boomtown Productions, a UAE-based production house, for instance, produced a 3D film last year to mark the launch of the Dubai’s metro system.
Daniel Kilalea, production manager at Boomtown, says interest in the promotional film has led to more enquiries for commercial work.
“There are quite a few big events companies here, and when something is launched, it is often a huge affair and so the guys always want to do something innovative,” he says.
“We’ve recently had enquiries about mounting a 3D rig on a helicopter for a big energy company to launch a new plant.”
The immersive experience of 3D with depth perception lends itself to demonstrations and walk-throughs of new developments. While the makers of entertainment programmes might be deterred by the cost of 3D and the uncertainty that surrounds distribution, the risks are minimised for corporate clients commissioning one-off pieces to showcase new products or services.
“At the moment, the monetising avenues for 3D are not clear, so it would make sense to look at other avenues where money making is not the object,” adds Forzy.
Having a pre-selected audience gathered in one space means that a lack of screens is not a barrier. Short programmes also tax the viewers’ eyes less. While dedicated 3D channels are making their way into the Middle East TV market and 3D screens in cinemas are catching up, there is little interest in shooting TVCs in 3D, possibly due to a lack of understanding from agencies and marketing managers.
“Right now, no one is really shooting in 3D for commercials,” says Forzy.
“We have seen 3D in the cinema, but that doesn’t showcase the client’s product; it tells a story. A client needs to understand what 3D is going to do for their product ad very often; they need to be educated and shown. What I have done is taken a 46” screen to the premises, sat them down with a pair of glasses and asked them to have a look at how it changes viewing sport and then, we say ‘Now, let’s talk about your product’. Then they understand and start to ask more precise questions.”
Digital agency Air set up in Dubai five months ago, and it is hoping that the Metro film was just the start of the region’s desire to showcase products and projects in 3D. It has placed 3D technology at the heart of its commercial communications work, and technical partner Mat Schramm says that autostereoscopic screens, where viewers don’t need to wear glasses, are best for their needs.
“It’s great for marketing because it can be used in retail at point of sale, exhibitions, hospitality and even medical or architectural visualisations. We have a 180”, billboard-size 3D TV ready to deploy, but we’re waiting for a client with the right budget,” he says.
SHOOTING ON TARGET
While 2D footage can be converted into 3D in post, as critics of recent 3D release Clash of the Titans pointed out, adding 3D effects can result in a laboured effect that looks like an afterthought.
“Shooting a 3D project as if it is a 2D project with two cameras will never result in worthwhile 3D,” says Chris Parks, stereographer and founder of UK-based Vision 3, a 3D specialist firm.
“The finished product will gain little from the thin veneer of 3D spread over the top of what should actually just be a 2D project.”
Planning for 3D in pre-production means that whip pans, fast cuts and other shots that might induce sickness in some viewers can be avoided. Indeed, being aware of the limitations of what the viewer can comfortably handle is an important part of the process.
“If the focus point keeps moving in and then out, your eyes refocus and that is what makes you feel nauseous,” says Boomtown’s Kilalea. “Jumping out is a good effect, but it can make you feel ill if overused.”
He gives the example of one of the recent Harry Potter films that featured a 3D scene shot from the point of view of a broom stick.
“It was a crazy experience – I have a strong stomach but if they didn’t stop the 3D effect when they did, I would have felt quite ill. You want to make it immersive, but you don’t want to overdo it,” he warns.
CAMERAS AND RIGS
To achieve a stereoscopic effect for the Metro film, Boomtown used two Arriflex D21 cameras, which they sourced from rental huse Filmquip.
Kilalea says they were limited by an umbilical cable from the cameras to a deck to record on to Sony HDCAM SR tape.
“That was a bit of a pain because you had to lug the decks. It was workable, but ideally you want cameras that record on board so you are more flexible and you don’t have to worry about the cable at all.”
With two images being merged into one, another important consideration is the matching of lenses.
“They have to be as identical as possible,” says Kilalea. “When lenses are manufactured the differences can be minute, but with 3D, you need to match your lenses. If you can get two from the same batch, that’s great, because you need to make sure both images have the same quality and nuances.”
Using two cameras instead of one makes filming in 3D a cumbersome operation, and it has been reported that the size of the rig needed to shoot in 3D is one of the reasons Inception director Christopher Nolan is not keen on the format.
Boomtown brought in the Hines rig from the UK to create its 3D film on the Metro. The Hines 3D rig is a motorised mirror rig with one camera facing forward and the other mounted on the top facing down.
“As you need to have control of convergence and divergence points, the physical limitations of using huge cameras means you can’t get them close enough to have the desired effect, but using the mirror rig means you can get them closely aligned,” explains Kilalea.
“You could use a side-by-side rig, but then you are limited to how close you can focus on something.”
P+S Technik, a German company, has tried to resolve the rig problem by making available 3D rigs on a mass basis, and these are now available in Dubai through its local distributor.
In the meantime, experienced stereographers, who act as the bridge between the director and the director of photography (DoP), are in short supply in the Middle East. Along with specialist kit, they will also need to be hired from other parts of the world.
CONSUMER 3D CAMERA
In the meantime, one firm that claims to be leading the charge in producing smaller and cheaper cameras for filming 3D is Panasonic. In January this year, Panasonic unveiled a $21,000 all-in-one 3D camera, and at the end of July, it launched a 3D camcorder for consumers with a detachable 3D lens.
Although it is aimed at consumers, Panasonic says there may be some demand from semi-professionals or small studios.
Producers, however, seem to be sceptical. “As it’s an all-in-one unit, they’ve matched the lenses, which is good.” says Kilalea.
“However, you are limited by how far you can shoot. From what I’ve seen so far, they aren’t in the same realm as a proper stereo rig; most pro cameras cost $50,000 to $100,000 each, so if you’re looking at $20,000 and below for an all-in-one unit, it’s not going to be in the same bracket.”
Vision 3’s Parks says the “ability to make 3D is becoming available to a much wider audience with high-end systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars down to consumer cameras costing $500”.
“The quality varies hugely, both in terms of content and hardware, but the investment is gaining momentum and things will only improve.”
Although they may not be embraced by professional users that demand broadcast quality, such products will push the overall case for 3D.
Hiring extra kit adds to the overall budget, and depending on the project, Air’s Schramm says it can make it “prohibitively expensive” to shoot live action 3D. To get around part of the problem of having to fly in specialist equipment, Air is building its own 3D rig, which it is testing with Canon DSLRs 5Ds and 7Ds.
“We’ve found that we get some great results just shooting TV commercials with [the Canon DSLRs]. We’re designing the rig for use with multiple cameras, but at the moment we are testing it with those cameras – they are an affordable solution for getting a great result,” he says.
Recruiting 3D kit and specialists is an expense that can be reduced even further if live action footage is replaced by animation.
“With animation, the rig is in a virtual world, so animating costs lesser at this stage until we have more of these independent rigs in the country,” Air’s Schramm says.
According to Schramm, Air generates 3D content in a virtual environment, with a virtual 3D rig and two virtual cameras that have the same properties as real cameras, together with [animation software] 3dsMax and additional plug-ins for stereoscopic rendering.
“Most of the enquiries we receive for 3D work are from clients in hospitality; hoteliers, developers and retailers, together with work for shop fronts and exhibitors – the likes of GITEX and Cityscape,” says Schramm.
“You have to give consumers what they want, and at this stage, it is embryonic. We’re at the stage where consumers aren’t screaming for it, which makes the broadcasters sit back a little bit more. But I think we are right at the cusp of it becoming a phenomenon in this region.”
In the meantime, filmmakers have the task of persuading marketing managers and those with the cheque books that 3D is not a risky business.
Says Forzy: “People are receptive to it, but they need to understand when you shoot 3D you must shoot 2D as well so if it doesn’t work, it will be safe. It’s also a combination of price, time and opportunity. If all of that is right for the client, that will dictate if it will work. Sometimes it will be right, sometimes it won’t – one thing it will never be, is systematic.”